Jeanine DeLay and Zoe Behnke from the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area have a conversation with Professor Liette Gidlow about what happened in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which conferred voting rights to women in the United States. Prof. Gidlow, an Associate Professor at Wayne State University, is the author of "The Big Vote," a fascinating history of the conflicting meanings and attitudes toward voting, citizenship and democracy during the decade after women won the vote.
Part I: Liette Gidlow outlines the themes in her book, "The Big Vote." Why did voter turnout drop in the 1920s? That is, why did an expected "big vote" not materialize? What apprehensions about democracy encouraged the separation of voters into two groups: good citizens and problem citizens? Which voters were discouraged from going to the polls? And why did the "expert citizen" become the standard in the early 20th century?
Part II: Liette, joined by Zoe Behnke, give examples of campaigns to increase voter turnout in Michigan cities, including Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. Both highlight how "Get-Out-The-Vote" campaigns relied on modern advertising techniques and consumer appeals. Liette also discusses how these campaigns formed a new "civic hierarchy" in communities, based narrowly on class and race. And she comments on the failure of these "Get-Out-The-Vote" campaigns to actually increase voter turnout.
Part III: In this section, several questions are taken up: What role did voting have in identifying a person as a "good" citizen? How was citizenship publicly portrayed in the media in the early 20th century? What role did race play in the struggle to gain votes for women? Why were Black women, who were very strong advocates of suffrage, snubbed by the leaders of the suffrage movement, especially in the final decade of the movement? What was the impact of the use of literacy tests and other similar measures on voting patterns in the 1920s?
Part IV: The last section focuses on several wide-ranging challenges: What were the consequences of identifying voters as consumers and of making the process of voting one of consumer choice? Was the prediction women would vote as a bloc on women's concerns, for example public health and children's issues, accurate? How did the parties and politicians react and respond to women having the vote after 1920? And finally, what visual representations or artifacts best tell the story of the impact of the Nineteenth Amendment and what came afterwards in the 1920s?